Secrets at Sea: What Cruise Lines Don’t Want You to Know About Onboard Safety (Part 1)

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Life saver In our last blog installments, our maritime attorney Michael Winkleman talked about some of the things cruise lines don’t want you to know about the hidden fees associated with a cruise vacation cancellation and how there’s no guarantee the itinerary you think you’ll be enjoying will be what you actually experience. Today, we’ll talk about what cruise lines don’t want you to know about safety on board a ship.

Cruise ship safety is a hot commodity these days. Or at least that’s what it appears to be, since cruise lines aren’t doing much to improve on board safety for passengers. Though it seems as though there’s a new accident or crime on the high seas each week, cruise lines aren’t doing much about it. Why is that?

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to provide the most reasonably safe shipboard environment possible for their guests as well as their crew. Given this fact, one would think that every ship would be equipped with the most advanced security equipment, best trained security guards, accident-proof engine systems and what not. On any given day, over 3,000 people might be sailing on a ship and of course, the last thing those people are thinking is that something is going to go wrong. No one embarks on a cruise ship thinking the worst will happen. They are grappling with having to choose between a margarita or beer, spa treatment or shore excursion. And with as high as some cruise vacations come, they are definitely not thinking that safety will not be included in the cruise ticket price.

Sadly, the truth is that cruise vacations are not as safe as travelers might imagine. In fact, there are numerous opportunities for mishaps to occur, whether they be related to a ship’s mechanical failure, a crash or a crime on board the ship. Cruise lines want their passengers to think they are safe. After all, who would want to sail out into the middle of the ocean if they are at risk for harm?

So, cruise lines omit certain things from passengers, like how much they actually train crew members to handle emergencies or how they don’t want to spend any money on safety improvement policies. What cruise lines don’t want you to know about onboard safety is that they don’t really prioritize onboard safety at all. But of course, if you knew that, then you would probably think twice about booking a cruise vacation.

And even though this is the grim reality, things are actually better now than they were before, as far as transparency in reporting cruise ship accidents and crimes to the public. It hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the cruise industry in the past couple of years – no pun intended. Between the Costa Concordia capsizing tragedy in 2012, the Carnival Triumph fire in 2013 and every other accident since then and in between, a spotlight has begun to shine on cruise operators, and not a very good one. Before these accidents, cruise lines had been able to keep a relatively low profile. They had been able – for the most part – to get away with underreporting accidents and crimes because no one was really cracking a whip over them. Because most of the world’s major cruise lines are registered in foreign ports and fly foreign flags, they are able to evade U.S. maritime law in many regards, as the brunt of the responsibility for investigating mishaps at sea or in port reverts back to the government of the country where the ship is registered.

Granted, there are some matters that simply must be reported to the United States, including serious accidents and crimes, such as a sexual assault crime on board a ship or a homicide. If the passenger is a U.S. citizen, then the cruise line – no matter where it is registered – must report the incident to the FBI and U.S. Coast Guard. Unfortunately, cruise lines haven’t always been forthcoming.

Check out part 2 of this blog to find out why.